Tampa native Joe Pequeno brings back Buccaneers tradition after loss to the Cardinals

Growing up in the Tampa area, I saw a lot of bad Buccaneers Football.  I was there for the orange and white uniforms, the team refusing to pay Doug Williams and saw Steve Young run for his life when he played quarterback for the Bucs.  I saw more games that left me disgusted and wondered why good fans in Florida had to suffer.

Years later, I live in Phoenix and the Bucs, are well, the Bucs.  Sunday’s game against Arizona, was a classic Bucs meltdown that reminded me of my days at Tampa Stadium.  Times where fans suffered and would wear paper bags over their heads in embarassment.

In Sunday’s breakdown segment with former Cardinal Michael Bankston,  I broke out the classic Buc Tradition.  I wore the Paper Bag in sadness.  Yes, I am a Bucs fan that is enduring the weekly pain with my friends in the Tampa Bay area.  The team is a mess and for the third time in four weeks, they blew a forth quarter lead.  At this point, laughter courtesy of a paper bag, is all Bucs fans have.

 

               

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Expect a rough year for the Redbirds

I had to wait before the season opener against Seattle to write about the Arizona Cardinals.  The long Quarterback battle is settled with John Skelton getting the starting job over Kevin Kolb.  That was a slam dunk choice for Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who probably made the decision in game one of the preseason when Kolb was slammed down in the Hall of Fame Game by the Saints.  In a Cardinals uniform, Kolb has never looked poised in the pocket.  As far as Skelton, he possesses great poise.  His accuracy and decision making?  Debatable.  But, he went five and two as a starter in 2011 and has a chance to lead the team in 2012.  That’s if he makes it through the season.  Stay loose Kevin, stay loose.  Rookie Ryan Lindley turned some heads in the preseason.  You never know, he might see game action this year. 

I feel bad for both because the Offensive Line is not in good shape.  Levi Brown was lost for the year with a torn triceps muscle.  So D’Anthony Batiste will start at Left Tackle, while rookie Bobby Massie will start at Right Tackle.  But you have to remember, this O-line has given up over a hundred sacks the last two years.  Assistant Head Coach/Offensive  Line Coach Russ Grimm was a Hall of Fame Caliber player.  But, so far he hasn’t produced one Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen.   But in fairness to Grimm, he hasn’t had a lot to work with.  A matter of fact, the last time the Cardinals had a Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen was Lomas Brown in 1996.  This is really disappointing under Coach Whisenhunt.  Because as a former Assistant with the Steelers, Whiz saw firsthand the quality O-line play Pittsburgh had.  But, that hasn’t translated to the Valley.  My O-line concern for the Cardinlas would be defcon two.

The Cardinals are blessed with Receiver Larry Fitzgerald.  He’s a great athlete and person.  Too many times in the preseason Fitz looked stunned and frustrated.  Bad Quarterback and O-line Play can do that to even the most gifted player.  Can Skelton/Kolb get Larry the ball?  Well, as bad as the Cardinals Quarterback play was last year, Fitz still managed to catch 80 passes for over 14-hundred yards with eight touchdowns.  So yes.  Fitz will get the ball.  But not as much as a great receiver should.  What could help Fitz is first round pick Michael Floyd.  He has great hands and seems to be still learning the offense.  But, he should be starting.  You don’t draft him in the first round and have him on the second team.  I don’t understand that.  Put him in, have him learn and make mistakes like Patrick Peterson did last year.  That turned out pretty well didn’t it? 

The Cardinals have like a Thousand Tightends, veteran Todd Heap is the most reliable, when he’s healthy.  Rob Housler has speed, but sometimes you don’t know what to expect.  The Runningback Corp is solid with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams returning from knee injuries.  Beanie has a history of knee problems so I doubt he’ll play in all sixteen games.  Williams looked great in the preseason and could be the explosive back to help ease the load.  Larod Stephens-Howling is a great third down back and William Powell had a great camp and adds quality depth.  With a suspect passing game, the Cardinals need the backs to produce.

The Defense has star power across the Board.  Defensive Tackle Darnell Dockett, Defensive End Calais Campbell, Safety Adrian Wilson, Safety Kerry Rhodes, Linebacker Daryl Washington, Linebacker O’brien Schoefield, Linebacker Sam Acho and Cornerback Patrick Peterson, all I can say is wow.  The defense came on strong at the end of last year and should be one of the best in the league this year.  Give the credit to Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton.  He was the best Coach on the team last year and he’ll be the best Coach on the team this year.  Horton and his unit will give the team a chance every Sunday.

Specials teams are special because Patrick Peterson is instant dynamite.  In his rookie season, he tied an NFL record with four Punt returns for touchdowns.  He’s the team’s best open field runner and is determined to be one of the elite shutdown corners in the league.  P2 is a great kid and has an amazing attitude.  LSH, aka Larod Stephens-Howling is great kick-off return specialist.  The kicker game is rock solid with Jay Feeley and Punter Dave Zastudil.  If the offense struggles the Defense and Special Teams could be a big factor for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have to play better on the road.  Last year, the team was only two and six on the road and is historically bad outside of Arizona especially on the east coast.  The Cardinals schedule is not easy by any means.  Their road schedule is brutal with games at New England, Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco, four powerhouse teams that will be fighting for the playoffs.      

So how will the Cardinals be in 2012? It boils down to their Quarterbacks and the O-line.  If the Quarterbacks fail the blame falls on Whisenhunt’s inability to develop a young quarterback.  Let me explain.  He couldn’t develop Matt Leinart and so far Skelton and Kolb have been mediocre at best.  The Cardinals didn’t really address the O-line in Free Agency and waited late in the draft to address it.  Good Luck.  The O-line scares me.  I truly feel they’ll give up over fifty sacks again.  I love the defense and the big play abilities of Fitzgerald and Peterson.  But the O-line is regressing and the Quarterbacks don’t look better.  Cardinals go 7 and 9 and miss the playoffs for a third straight year.  Joe Pequeno over and out.

 

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49ers win the NFC West again.

Sometimes after a great season, teams take it easy and don’t push hard in free agency.  Not the 49’ers, they went for it all and made out like the NFC West Champs they are.  On offense, they sign Giants bull-dozing Running-back Brandon Jacobs.  Guess who is getting the ball on every second or third and short.  That alone will keep Frank Gore healthy.  The passing game gets so much better as 49’ers bring in Giants Receiver Mario Manningham.  His over the shoulder 38 yard reception in the Giants game winning Super Bowl drive against the Patriots will be talked about forever.  And they get a guy named Randy Moss who is pretty good as well.  Are you kidding me?  Moss at age 35 is still better than half the receivers in the league.  He says he feels rejuvenated after taking a year off from the game.  Scary.  Camp reports say he looks great.  If that’s the case, pencil him in for a thousand yards and ten touchdowns easy.  That’s if, Alex Smith doesn’t revert back to his old form.  I applaud the 49’ers for going for it.

So offensively, the 49’ers are stacked.  Jim Harbaugh’s team was ranked 26th in that category, 29th in passing, that will change dramatically this year.   Quarterback Alex Smith had a breakout season completing 61 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions.  Now, he has Moss and Manningham to throw to along with Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr, Kyle Williams and first round pick A.J. Jenkins out of Illinois.  Lets’ not forget about Tightend Vernon Davis, who tortured the Saints in the playoffs.  The 49’ers ground attack was one of the best in the league ranked eighth putting up 2044 yards.  Workhorse Frank Gore led the way with 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns.  He broke down at the end of last year, but that won’t happen this year, because back-up Kendall Hunter returns.  He averaged over four yards a carry.  Did I mention the 49’ers signed the freight train Brandon Jacobs?   

So imagine if you’re part of a tired defense facing the 49’ers in the second half.  All of sudden, they bring in tailback LaMichael James who breaks off a 30-yarder to ice the game.  Some people ripped the 49’ers drafting James in the second round.  I love it.  James was a stud at Oregon and could be the back-up at the end of the season.   You better believe the 49’ers eighth ranked rushing will run into the top five. The Offensive Line is strong across the board led by Pro Bowl Tackle Joe Staley.  This group is big and physical and usually imposes its will on the opposition.  Quarterback Alex Smith has the weapons he needs and is playing in the same system he knows.  I feel confident Smith will take another step toward becoming a real good Quarterback.  The 49’ers offense from top to bottom is the best in the NFC West, they’ll be hard to stop.

I’m giddy over the offense and the defense is outstanding ranked forth last year.  They play fast and physical.  San Francisco was ranked number one in the league against the run allowing only 77 yards a game.  The 49’ers Linebackers are devastating.   The team hit such a home run drafting Linebacker Aldon Smith out of Missouri.  In his first year, he put up 14 sacks.  Smith led a defense ranked eighth in the league with 42 Sacks.   He could be terrorizing Quarterbacks for years.  When it comes to game changers the 49’ers have one of the best in Patrick Willis.   When he hits someone you can feel it.  Another great player is third year Linebacker NaVorro Bowman who led the team with a 143 tackles, 111 solo.   The great Linebackers keep coming with Ahmad Brooks who racked up seven sacks with 50 tackles.

The D-Line is big and talented led by Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle Justin Smith, who had 7.5 sacks last year.  If the defense has any cracks it might lie in the secondary as the 49’ers were ranked 16th in pass defense.   But you would never know by the way they handled the Saints and Giants in the playoffs.  Pro Bowl Cornerback Carlos Rogers anchors one island and Pro Bowl Free Safety Dashon Goldson makes plays all over the field.  Tarell Brown or Chris Culliver will secure the other starting Corner position and could be pushed by talented Perrish Cox.  He was a starter in Denver until he was accused of Sexual Assault along with Broncos teammate Demaryius Thomas back in 2010.  If the 49’ers have any weaknesses it might only when they go to nickel situations.  But, once again, this defense can play and shut down anyone.

If the 49’ers have to play a field position game, their Special Teams are stacked with Kicker Joe Nedney and Punter Andy Lee.  Both made the Pro Bowl last year.  From top to bottom the 49ers are loaded and play fast and ferocious.  Coach Jim Harbaugh is very impressive; he knows the game and how to win.  That won’t change in his second year.  The 49ers go 11 and 5 and win the division for the second year in a row.  Joe Pequeno over and out!

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Can Wilson or Flynn win with the Seahawks? Count on it.

We’ve all seen the comedy movie classic “Animal House,” if you haven’t put it on your bucket list.  When Otter says to Flounder “You $$$&** up!  You trusted us!” it applies to the Seattle Seahawks.   In a roundabout way, this off-season the Seahawks’ Brass pretty much told their fans that by saying Tavoris Jackson wasn’t the answer at Quarterback.  Uh, duh.  Seattle could have paid me a six figure salary and there is no way Action-less Jackson would have been on the roster.  Jackson did complete sixty percent of his passes, but threw only 14 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.  He doesn’t scare anyone as Seattle was ranked 28th in total offense.   

Rectifying the problem, Seattle makes the second most intriguing Quarterback move of the off-season, getting Packers Free Agent Quarterback Matt Flynn.  In Flynn’s lone start last year against the Lions, he put up X-Box like numbers throwing 480 yards and six touchdowns.  Was it a fluke?  Was it some divine intervention?  Who knows.  Needless to say, that game put him on the map and landed him a three-year 26 million dollar deal with Seattle.  Action-less Jackson is now officially holding a clipboard full time and watching Kevin Bacon say “Thank you, Sir.  May I have another?”  Face it, in the NFL you have to have a good Quarterback or your stuck in comatose like the Miami Dolphins.

It was a great move by General Manager John Schneider because if Flynn plays well Seattle could be dangerous.  The Seahawks also draft Quarterback Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin, a very good athlete.  Who is listed under six feet tall.  He’s had a great preseason and was named the opening day starter against the Cardinals.

Seattle hits a major home run at Quarterback and surrounds the key position with an adequate receiving unit.  Not a thousand yard receiver among the group, I don’t get it.  Receiver Doug Baldwin leads the Seahawks with 51 catches for 788 yards and five touchdowns.  Ben Obomanu and Golden Tate are serviceable but not stellar by any means.  If Sidney Rice can stay healthy, which is almost impossible, he could be the star of the group.  Desperate to stretch the field, Seattle signs Braylon Edwards, who seems to have played on every team in the league.  He was a bust last year for the 49’ers and his time in the league is winding down.  In the draft, Seattle didn’t address the receiving unit…big mistake.  Taking a chance, Seattle signs 38 year old receiver Terrell Owens to a one year deal.  But, he was cut a couple weks later for being TO.  Tight End Zach Miller has big play potential and could benefit from the change under center.  The passing game comes down to Wilson.Flynn.  They’ll have to make do with what they’ve got.  Good Quarterbacks have a way of making everyone better.  Maybe either can do the same.

Pete Carroll’s team will have no problems running the football with Marshawn Lynch.  Who rushed for 1,204 yards with 12 touchdowns last year.  He averaged 4.2 yards a carry and might be able to do more if Flynn can keep defenses from stacking the box.  Lynch should have a capable back-up in rookie Robert Turbin.  Drafted in the forth round out of Utah State, Turbin has great lower body strength, great vision and cutback ability.  Pro Bowl Fullback Michael Robinson does everything and more as the backfield is set.  The Offensive Line doesn’t have any big names.  The group gave up 33 sacks, but did pave the way for Lynch’s thousand yard season.  Seattle signs former Cardinals’ Guard Deuce Lutui to a one year deal.  It could be a great pickup if Deuce can keep his weight under control and not eat downtown Seattle.

Defense is the strength of the Seahawks, the group ranked ninth in the league last year giving up 330 yards a game.  It starts with Defensive End Chris Clemons, who racked up 11 sacks with 51 tackles.  The Linebacker Corp takes a major hit as leading tackler David Hawthorne signed with the Saints.  To replace him, Seattle signs former Bucs Linebacker Barrett Ruud.  Who led Tampa Bay in tackles from 2007 to 2010.  They also re-sign Outside Linebacker Leroy Hill, who was forth on the team in tackles with five sacks.  Defensive End Red Bryant also returns and has to give the team more than 32 tackles and one sack. 

Many feel Seattle gambled taking Outside Linebacker Bruce Irvin from West Virginia with the 15th pick in the draft.  He’s lightning quick off the edge and could step right into a pass rushing role.  His lack of size could make him a liability against the run.  If Irvin doesn’t play well, Seattle’s questionable draft class could be considered a bust all the way around.  The Secondary is stacked with Safeties Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Cornerback Brandon Browner.  The three some are physical and have great instincts to the ball and helped forced 22 interceptions last year.  Plus, Cornerback Richard Sherman played at a Pro Bowl level, he’s a star in the making.  The Secondary is as good as any in the league.  Seattle needs to get to the Quarterback more, if they do, this group will once again be a top ten defensive unit.  I believe they will because defense is Pete Carroll’s specialty.

The Schedule is tough right out of the gates for the Seahawks as they open on the road against the Cardinals followed by home games against the Cowboys and Packers.  Talk about getting hit right in the mouth.  In October, it doesn’t let up as they host the Patriots on October 14th, followed by road games against the 49’ers and Lions.  The Jets and Bears also make the trip to the CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks have one of the best home field advantages in the league. 

The Seahawks finished seven and nine last year and lost five games by six points or less and that was with Jackson running the show.  Now they have an upgrade at the position.  Packers Coach Mike McCarthy groomed Aaron Rodgers into one of the best Quarterbacks in the league.  Maybe he did the same with Flynn, but as of now Wilson is the starter.  When it’s all siad and done, I believe Wilson will be the starter.  If either quarterback works wonders Seattle improves to 9-7 and will be in the hunt for a Wildcard berth.  Until then, turn on the boys from Delta Tau Chi, scream ‘”Toga, Toga” and dance to Otis Day and the Knights.  Joe Pequeno over and out!

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Sam Old Rams – NFC West Cellar Dweller

The Guys in the CBS 5 Sports Office, Scott Smith and Executive Sports Producer Jody Isaac think I’m obsessed with the St. Louis Rams.  I’m not.  They get me fired up because of the questionable off-season moves starting with hiring Jeff Fisher as Head Coach.   In an age of unprecedented offensive football, with great offensive minds throughout the league, the Rams pick a defensive minded head coach again.  In seventeen years as Head Coach of the Oilers/Titans, Fisher had only six seasons with an above five hundred record.   In Nashville, Fisher was labeled “Mr. Mediocre.”  So, why was he such a hot commodity?  Stop it.   

So instead of hiring a great offensive coach like Saints Pete Carmichael Junior or Green Bay’s Joe Philbin (later hired by Miami) Rams General Manager Les Snead picks “Mr. Mediocre.”  My heart goes out to Quarterback Sam Bradford, who could be a superstar if he was given the right pieces and coach, none of which he has.  An offense ranked almost dead last in offense (31st) couldn’t afford to lose free agent receiver Brandon Lloyd.  Guess what?  He left and signed with New England, so the Rams are left with a receiving unit lacking any star power.  Rams Fever…if you have it see a doctor and get rid of it.

Needing playmakers desperately, the Rams should have drafted Receiver Justin Blackmon in the first round.  Instead they draft Brian Quick out of Appalachian State (Rd. 2) and Chris Givens out of Wake Forest (Rd. 4).  Draft experts shook their heads on both picks and so do I.  Someone in St. Louis please get Sam Bradford some studs to throw to?  It’s long overdue as the Rams passing game will struggle again. 

Despite all the problems with the passing game, the Rams ranked 23rd in the league in rushing.  Tailback Steven Jackson managed to rush for over 11-hundred yards with five touchdowns.  He has to be frustrated with the direction of the team.  He’s 29 and his physical, bruising style could be taking its toll on his body.  In the second round, the Rams draft Tailback Isaiah Pead out of Cincinnati.  He’s a versatile back, who bulked up for the NFL Combine.  Is he the future?  No.  Can he help?  Sure.  

The biggest problem with the team lies on the offensive line.  Rams Quarterbacks were sacked 55 times last year.  If this was my team, I’m building a fortress to protect my franchise quarterback, like the 49’ers did a couple of years ago.  It paid off for them.  The Rams didn’t do that.  They didn’t address one of thier biggest needa until the fifth round of the draft getting Offensive Guard Watkins Rokevious out of South Carolina.  Good move. He’s a very good player, he could start immediately.  So, it looks like Bradford could be running for his life again or maybe not.

Fisher brings in new Offensive Line Coach Paul Boudreau, who earned strong reviews in Atlanta.  He has a history of maximizing talent and he’ll have to do the same in St. Louis.  Free Agent pickups Quinn Ojinnaka and Robert Turner who played for Boudreau in Atlanta, will battle journeymen Bryan Mattison for the starting left tackle job.  Rokevious might also become a factor at Left Tackle.  The O-line should be somewhat better, but not dominant by any means.

There is plenty of hope on defense starting with Linebacker James Laurinaitis. He’s a stud racking up a 142 tackles, 105 of those solo.  Defensive End Chris Long is a beast, he’s coming off a 13 sack year.  On the other end, Robert Quinn can bring the Heat with five sacks.  He’s also feeling heat after getting arrested for DUI on July 10th.  Veteran Safety Quintin Mikell and potential star in the making in fellow Safety Darian Stewart lead a secondary that ranked seventh in pass defense and twenty-second overall in total defense.  If the offense could stay on the field longer the defense would be better. 

Back to the Rams draft, this might come as a surprise with their first round pick Fisher went defense.  Shocker.  Quarterback Sam Bradford was seen crying when the pick was made.  The Rams trade down to fourteen and draft Defensive Tackle Michael Brockers.  His last year at LSU, he finished with 54 tackles and two sacks.  He reminds me of Anthony “Booger” McFarland, another former LSU Player.  Who parlayed a decent, but under achieving career with Tampa Bay.  Brockers is very raw, some people like the pick, others don’t.

The Rams also draft troubled, but talented Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has more character issues than an episode of Dr. Phil.  You build a winner with character players, not players like Jenkins who has multiple related marijuana arrests.  If you’re a Rams fan, God have mercy on your soul.  I see this team being a lot like the Titans under Fisher.  They’ll have a good defense that will keep them in games, but not much more.   Not enough firepower at receiver and a questionable offensive line leads to the cellar of the NFC West and a 6 and 10 season.  By the way, Sam Bradford was sacked five times in the time it took me to put this together.

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Grant Hill really? You picked the Clippers over the Lakers?

Let me start by saying that I think the world of Grant Hill as a person and a player.  On and off the court, he’s always carried himself with class and was a great ambassador for the Phoenix Suns.  We all knew he was going to leave the Suns in free agency.  The Suns want to get younger and because of a knee injury, Hill averaged a career low ten points last year. 

 It seemed like he would follow good friend Steve Nash and join the Lakers.  That makes all the sense in the world right?  He would get to play with Stunning Steve, the best one on one player in Kobe Bryant and possibly center Dwight Howard, or at worse big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. 

At 39, you figure Hill has enough money and winning a championship would be the most important thing on his agenda.  Now with Nash running the offense, The Lakers would give him the best chance to get a ring.  No. No. No.  Instead, Hill signs a two year deal worth four million with the young and coming Los Angeles.  I don’t get it.

Reports say, the Lakers reportedly offered Hill a one year deal for the veteran’s minimum, which works out to be roughly 1.3 to 1.4 million a year.  Once again, Grant Hill has made a lot of money in the league.  Winning a title with Kobe, Nash and the Lakers would be a great finish to a very proud and good basketball career.   Instead, he took the bigger payday to play for the Clippers.

I know what you’re thinking, but I’m really not hating on the Clippers.  They’re on the rise with a franchise making player in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul running the show.  Plus, they have a slew of good young players like Center Deandre Jordan and veterans like Guard Mo Williams and Small Forward Caron Butler that makes them very deep and talented.  By the way, Hill is expected to back up Butler.

The difference in the teams, the Lakers have the glory, the courtside stars and the championship banners hung in the rafters.  When you play for the Lakers, you play for championships, the Clippers are not at that stage yet.  So if it came down to money for Hill, I wish him well.  But come June of next year if Steve Nash is hugging that NBA Championship Trophy, Hill will be second guessing himself forever.  Joe Pequeno over and out!

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No Kobe. Your squad couldn’t beat The Dream Team.

His confidence, leadership and amazing ability, I love everything about Lakers’ Kobe Bryant.  There’s no question he’s one of the greatest players of all-time.   But when Bryant said his current Team USA Olympic squad could beat the original “Dream Team,” I have to disagree.   While Kobe’s crew has more athleticism and speed, the Dream Team would own them inside with David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.  Because of injuries, Bryant’s squad only has Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love as the only big men to bang down low.

Now, the game would be very entertaining.   Imagine Kobe, Lebron James, Durant, D-Will and Carmelo on the floor against Jordan, Magic, Barkley, Stockton and The Admiral…mind blowing.  I don’t even bring up John Stockton who is maybe the greatest and smartest player of all time.  The IQ of that team was ridiculously off the charts with players like Bird, Jordan, Magic and Stockton.

Jordan couldn’t believe Kobe made the statement.  MJ said there’s “no comparison.”  “For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he could have ever done.”  Jordan most likely said that while smoking a cigar and ripping golf balls.  Barkley said, “How old is Kobe Bryant? He’s 34? And he’s calling us old? At the time, we were only like 28, 29. Michael Jordan and me were the same age. We were both 29. … Other than Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on that team makes our team.”  I love the legends for calling out the Black Mamba.

Scottie Pippen came out and said the Dream Team would have won by 25 points.  I truly believe Kobe, Durant and Lebron would get their points, their too good of scorers.  The biggest difference in the teams would have been Michael Jordan, the best player and competitor the game has ever seen.  He would have the Dream Teamers so ready to play, a group that featured eleven Hall of Famers, a team that could win in transition, on the glass, and half court.  Hey if anything, Kobe gave us something to think about other then how the Lakers basically gave up nothing to get Steve Nash.  Until next time true believers, Joe Pequeno over and out!!

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